A decade ago, the idea of attending school only four days a week in Missouri seemed an impossibility. Now it is becoming a growing reality in many school districts.
Sixty-one districts across the state, or 11%, are using the four-day week schedule with many more considering the option including two local districts, Pettis County R-V (Northwest) and Green Ridge R-VIII.
Former Gov. Jay Nixon signed the bi-partisian supported legislation into law allowing for the option in 2011. The law changed the requirement from attending a total of 174 days to 1,044 classroom hours of instruction for those wishing to make the switch.
Northwest Superintendent Amy Fagg said it is something district staff and parents have indicated they are in favor of.
“Yes, we are considering it,” Fagg recently said. “The board has discussed it, we sent out a survey, we are having a community forum on Dec. 10, and the board is anticipating deciding at the Dec. 19 board meeting.
“The main reason we are considering is recruitment and retention of teachers,” she added. “The school day will increase by 40 minutes, the school year will remain the same. The number of instructional hours (1,104 scheduled hours) will be the same next year whether we go to a four-day or remain a five-day.”
While Northwest is closer to making a decision than Green Ridge, which is in the preliminary stages of discussion, both districts consider the need to retain quality teachers as a primary reason for the possible change.
While completing the Green Ridge CSIP (comprehensive school improvement plan), it became apparent to the Strategic Planning Team members there was interest in researching a four-day school week as a means to recruit and retain teachers, according to Green Ridge Superintendent Dr. Jamie Burkhart.
“The CSIP was completed this month and the board has approved it,” Burkhart said. “Therefore, as researching a four-day school week as an option for staff recruitment and retention was a part of this CSIP, I knew I first had to ask our students, staff, parents and community members their thoughts on this topic.
“The motivations discussed at the beginning of this survey for researching this potential change include recruiting and retaining high quality teachers and staff, increasing employee and student attendance, and increasing quality time for students to spend with their families,” she added. “They were asked if they would be in favor of a four-day week, if a four-day week would impact their family in a positive manner, if they would require school-organized childcare, and what positive aspects they could see with a four-day week, and what concerns they have about a four-day week.”
As with many smaller school districts, staff salaries are a concern when trying to compete with larger districts.
For first-year teachers, there is a $19,428 difference between the highest paying district and the districts paying the state-mandated minimum starting salary, according to a Missouri State Teachers Association Salary Schedule Annual Report released Jan. 22. The report contains data from all of the state’s public school districts.
“Our CSIP Strategic Planning Team continued to discuss how it is difficult to recruit and retain exceptional staff members when the districts surrounding us can pay much more,” Burkhart noted. “We know that our students would benefit academically by continuing to have high quality staff members applying for positions here and by continuing to retain them. The four-day school week offers additional time for professional development, curriculum planning, and collaboration among colleagues.”
Among districts that have gone to a four-day schedule, staff and student attendance has increased. This can be a cost saving measure as fewer substitute teachers may be needed with fewer staff absences.
“Our attendance is fairly strong,” Burkhart noted. “However, we would hope that a four-day school week could assist in improving both student and staff attendance as appointments could be made during non-school days. Also, if the school district would choose to implement a four-day calendar, we would hope to see that through effective continuous professional development and an intense focus on curriculum planning and pacing, that we will also see a positive correlation to student performance.”
As Fagg explained, there is an increase in attendance but also a decrease in discipline referrals among students in districts who have gone to a shortened school week.
Data is split on test scores, according to many districts. Some have noted increases while others have seen decreases in scoring. One reason may be changes in state testing, many of which have occurred as districts are making the move to four-day schedules. Fagg said the majority of studies show no significant change in test scores.
Both superintendents and their committees have looked at a number of other factors that may impact the districts. Burkhart said extracurricular activities, practices and games would continue to be scheduled the same as before, even on non-school days. Students attending State Fair Career and Technical Center would still attend those programs on non-school days.
According to Fagg, the biggest concern was available child care for the days not in session. She explained the district would offer child care on the off Mondays.
While they are other factors to be taken into consideration, both Fagg and Burkhart are grateful for the conversations the proposals have brought to the table. They also admitted there is much work to do and no decisions have been made.
“I have had conversations with superintendents of schools who have implemented the four-day school week, including districts near us (Warsaw and Crest Ridge) but also in schools around the state,” Burkhart said. “It is interesting to hear the data they can provide regarding how this calendar has increased their teacher applicant pool and quality of applicants, increased staff and student attendance, and drastically decreased student discipline issues. The schools I have contacted have been very pleased with the results they are seeing with their four-day school week calendars.”